An “open door policy” means a manager enjoys and is available for discussion with staff about what they are doing, or what company resources might need reallocation. In a perfect workplace, conversation is easy and communication is continuous and clear.
That’s a two-way street, however. One of the most challenging employees I have ever supervised was very bright, charming, and eager to please – but he was also glib, with a tendency to minimize problems. He crossed my office threshold only after a situation became too hot or complex for him to handle. After a few of these encounters, I learned to proactively “check in” with him more often, but his standard answer to any inquiry was a wink or grin accompanied by “Don’t worry, I’m on it.”
What he said in reassurance, I heard as dismissive. I wanted a clear explanation of why I should not worry, not a verbal pat on the head. After a few of these unproductive exchanges, I pulled him aside for a little mentoring on how to better manage our relationship. Thereafter we were better able to put our heads together to address problems on the horizon rather than scramble to put out fires at our front door.
Over the years, I’ve mentored many disgruntled employees in the craft of “handling” their managers to improve their own job satisfaction, productivity, and security, and here are a few of the nuggets (beyond dropping the phrase “don’t worry” from your professional vocabulary) that might work for you, too:
• Tired of being micro-managed? Proactively keep your manager in the loop about anticipated project outcomes and deadlines. There are many ways to approach most projects and, based on personal experiences and preferences, you might be most effective taking Route A, while your boss likes Route B. If you prefer maximum workplace independence, offer progress reports on measurable outcomes and be upfront about your realistic expectations of success. Meanwhile, avoid opening Door #3: a discussion about how you are reaching your goals!
• Time to punt? If a situation is beyond your authority or ability to reach a good outcome, take it to your manager before it becomes an emergency. Enter the discussion with proposed steps to take, or your idea of a solution. A huddle or handoff is expected from time to time; punting on first down, or with little thought or engagement, is a career-ender.
• Need advice? Here’s a hard thing to do: If you ask your boss for advice, be prepared to actually take it. Or, in response, state clearly why you might sidestep it. Otherwise you might be stuck with a constraint you know won’t work, or worse, if you don’t take the advice and the situation worsens, expect double trouble!
• Want a raise? Raises, promotions, and perks are incentives or rewards for going above and beyond the job you were hired to do at an agreed upon salary. In tough economic times, employees often are asked to do more for less compensation. Be the rare employee who thanks a manager for the opportunity to further contribute to the company’s survival and growth plans. That approach will lay the foundation for later expressing your expectation that when the economy turns around, your compensation might be re-evaluated.
• Want to become your bosses’ go-to person? Whether your manager is an inclusive or independent decision maker, you’ll occasionally be asked for your opinion. Your manager may have already assigned you the role of Bystander, Yes Person, or Obstructionist. If you have no opinion, consider this: bystanders are the first people cut, regardless of talent. If you like the idea, add value to the discussion by saying why you think the new direction has legs rather than just saying, “That sounds good.” Conversely, if you enjoy the role of devil’s advocate a little too much or too often, you’re going to be considered an obstructionist. It’s hard to abandon a comfort zone or role, but you want to be known for your integrity and willingness to honestly say what you think is best for the company.
Next week, come back for a quick review of company personality tests: what might they reveal about you?